Hill Country Sips: San Saba Ain’t Just About Pecans

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Tony Maples Photography


For generations, people have known San Saba as the Pecan Capital of the World. Despite that notoriety, a different crop of fruit has taken up residence in San Saba, and wine lovers are taking notice.

DSC_0088Photo: Marcy Stellfox

Thanks in large part to Mike McHenry and his family, today, San Saba’s historic downtown shines with life and vigor. Not only have they brought new business into San Saba, but they’ve also worked hard to revitalize the downtown.

McHenry’s Wedding Oak Winery opened its doors in 2012. The tasting room resides in a building dating back to 1926 and McHenry constructed winery’s production facility on an empty lot next door. Since then, McHenry refurbished a building a bit further down the block to house a new winery project, Old Man Scary Cellars.

13920476_1288638121155009_8315960003587322925_oPhoto: Facebook/Wedding Oak Winery

Wedding Oak takes its name from a 400-year old live oak tree 2.5 miles from the winery. First Indians, and then the townsfolk gathered under the tree’s wide, swooping boughs for festivals and celebrations, including weddings. McHenry figured a tree with roots as deep as that of the live oak was a good fit for the winemaking business he wanted to start with his family from grapes grown right in the Texas Hill County.

He’s done what many a winegrower in the Hill Country has done — embraced the rugged, rocky land and the unpredictable weather and planted varietals that would tolerate both. The results speak for themselves.

The Wedding Oak wines consist mostly of drier wines although they make a few sweeter wines, too. What’s good to try? For white wine fans, the 2015 Albarino made from 100% Texan grown albariño grapes from the High Plains received a gold medal at the 2017 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Wine Competition. You want this wine at your table when serving pork or grilled veggies for its red grapefruit, red apple, and lemon zest notes.

DSC_0091Photo: Marcy Stellfox

If you prefer a rosé, the 2014 Bridal Blush walked away with a Double Gold Medal at the 2017 Houston Livestock and Rodeo Wine Competition. Perfect for a summer evening sips, the folks at Wedding Oak also like it with turkey, dressing, and cranberries. This wine you can drink year round.

For sweet wine fans, the Sweet Alyssum received bragging rights when it pulled down Best in Class at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and International Class Champion and Texas Class Champion at the 2017 Houston rodeo competition. Pair this vintage made from riesling and muscat canelli grapes with spicy foods and look for notes of ripe pear, navel orange, and honeydew melon. The wine gets its name from its bouquet, floral in nature, and hence its moniker, Sweet Alyssum.

For those who enjoy a red blend, choose the 2014 Tioja. Made in large part from tempranillo and to a lesser extent garnacha, touches of graciano, tannat, cabernet sauvignon, and sangiovese combine together for a lovely palate pleaser. Complex, but oh, so drinkable. Wedding Oak Winery, 316 East Wallace, San Saba, 325-372-4050; hours: Sunday – Wednesday 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

15625905_582562335265615_4377068948783573921_oPhoto: Facebook/Old Man Scary Cellars

Jump a few doors down from Wedding Oak and step into Old Man Scary Cellars for a different wine tasting experience. The Hisel Family, owners of Rattlesnake Road Vineyards, entered into an incubator project with Wedding Oak and became involved in the winemaking business, too. In an incubator project, an established winery agrees to help a new winery get started in the hope that both businesses will benefit from increased traffic and notoriety.

In fact, Wedding Oak and Old Man Scary Cellars use the same winemaker for creating their wines, but each winery has a truly unique feel and taste to the wines they make.

14206035_537265636461952_700386671242452139_oPhoto: Facebook/Old Man Scary Cellars

But back to the name of the winery for a second. The Hisel family owns property in Hockley, Texas where an old abandoned farmhouse sits full of rumors aplenty. Apparently, one such rumor includes a death scene and a lurking evil spirit. The Hisel’s youngest son coined the former owner of the old house as Old Man Scary. The vineyards on the property flourished, however, and Old Man Scary seemed to embrace the use of his land. The family became quite attached to the story and the spirit and honored his memory with the winery’s name.

Wines created at Old Man Scary are also mostly of the drier variety, but a few sweeter wines add balance. For a light sweet sipper, try the 2015 Button Blush rosé. With hints of strawberries and watermelon, this is summer in a bottle. Drink it up with burgers, chicken, or spicy food.

For those looking for a white wine, the 2014 Viognier brings hints of honey and peach to the glass together with a flowery bouquet. Its full, bold character lends itself to pair well with creamy pastas and turkey dinners.

15776729_587298601458655_4338232771423253407_oPhoto: Facebook/Old Man Scary Cellars

For a light red that sings to its supper, try the 2014 Dolcetto. With hints of red berries and cherries, this dry red has a light smokiness to it with a touch of spice. Uncork this bottle with your favorite Italian dish or a plate of Mexican food. Old Man Scary Cellars, 302 East Wallace, San Saba, 325-372-6071; hours: Sunday, Monday & Wednesday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thursday, Friday, & Saturday 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., closed Tuesday.